Apartheid, a word derived from the Afrikaans word for “apartness,” was a governmental policy of segregation against non-whites in South Africa until the last decade of the 20th century. Since that time, the word has evolved to mean segregation in other contexts as well.
Like most Americans, my view of South Africa’s apartheid system government was that it oppressed the non-white members of its society while providing unjust advantage and privilege to the white members. It was not until I lived here for a while that I realized how simplistic and misleading that viewpoint actually was.
During the apartheid, not only did the non-white people live under onerous restrictions, but the whites did as well. White people could not go to certain parts of their country—they were reserved for non-whites. So, while the beautiful bathing beaches of Durban were white-only, others relegated to the rocky, less pristine shores, if a white person wished to go rock climbing or fishing, take photos of the rock formations or just sit on the rocks that were, perhaps, closer to home than the white-only beaches, he was forbidden to do so.
This may seem small, but this segregation extended to all facets of society. White people could not associate with non-whites, even if they truly wanted to. To be romantically involved with a non-white put you in danger of being jailed; you could not buy a house or even land wherever you wanted—you had to limit such a purchase to areas designated for whites. You had no freedom of association. News coming into the country was filtered to remove any trace of information that might present free options to the minds of the people; movies were censored, television not even permitted in the country until the late 1970s, and then the programming was tightly controlled so as not to provide any incentive to rock the separatist’s boat.
This is not to say that the lot of the white South African was as bad as the lot of the blacks, coloureds and “Asians” (actually, people of Indian descent whose ancestors came here as manual labourers in the sugar cane fields). It was not as bad—but it was not a life of unfettered freedom.
One of the legacies of apartheid that persists to this day, nearly two decades after its end, is the persistent sense, among the white people, that they should be privileged. They feel an entitlement to things people in free societies have known all along were not possible: complete safety, for example. The apartheid society was a police state: if you weren’t in the “right” part of town (based on your race), especially after dark, you risked arrest. Crime statistics were reported only on crimes against whites during this time, so modern crime statistics seem alarmingly high by comparison as they report all crime regardless of the race of the victim. White people in this country expect to be safe everywhere, all of the time and blame the non-white government because they are not.
White people here also have other expectations—a sense of entitlement, if you will—that comes as a legacy of their years of being the advantaged class. Affirmative action is alive and well here and when a young black is hired over a young white, both of them having the same educational background and experience, people cry “unfair,” as if it would have somehow been more fair to hire the white guy. But unlike Americans, who also struggle with a sense of unfairness with regard to Affirmative Action, South Africans are prone to “throw their toys out of the cot”—to have a tantrum about the situation that involves pulling up sticks and moving to another country where they can be terribly surprised to learn that crime and workplace competitiveness also exist!
If you have been following along with this, perhaps you have picked up the subtext: in apartheid South Africa, the non-white citizens were the Scapegoats, the whites were the Golden Children. The society was a macrocosm of life in a dysfunctional household in which the dominant parent was narcissistic. It featured such staples of the narcissistic home as triangulation (information in and out of the country channelled through a single filtering source), gaslighting (telling people their own perceptions of right and wrong, fair and unfair were incorrect), rigid control, blaming, and the creation of a fantastical unreality, an ideal state, in which everyone there must deny reality and buy into the fantasy or suffer the consequences.
In a narcissistic household, one (or more) members of the family are singled out to be the scapegoat, the one to whom the narcissists assigns blame for just about everything. I, for example, was told by my mother when I was 14 that everything that was wrong in her life was my fault—because I had been born! Taking responsibility for getting pregnant with me was not in the cards there—no, the fact of my existence was the reason her fine plans (fantasies) for her life had not panned out.
In these narcissistic household there in also at least one Golden Child, the child who can do no wrong, the child who is the spoiled darling of the narcissist. The Scapegoat may be even be held responsible for the behaviour of the Golden Child—when I was a kid, I got punished when my younger (but bigger) brother misbehaved because I was the oldest and it was therefore my job to make him do his chores and stay out of trouble. This was the case from as young as I can remember and the patent absurdity of making a scrawny 3 year old responsible for the actions of her sturdy, unsupervised toddler brother never seemed to dawn on my mother.
In a household in which there is only one child, that child may alternately be the Scapegoat and the Golden Child, depending on the narcissist’s mood and need to blame something on someone. This has got to be both confusing and crazy-making for the child but, for some odd reason, it seems perfectly rational to the narcissist.
We all have sympathy for the scapegoated child. Nobody should have to live their lives being blamed—and penalized for—the behaviours of other people, but this is what happens in the narcissistic household. But most of us don’t harbour an equal amount of sympathy for the Golden Child. Just like in our view of South Africa’s apartheid era, we sympathize with the downtrodden non-white citizens while at the same time, completely ignoring the dysfunction their more privileged brethren were trained into.
This dysfunction is pervasive and can even define who that Golden Child becomes as a person. They can be resistant to change simple because they fear—sometimes on an intellectually inaccessible level—that change will mean them losing their privilege. Look at the controversy about gay marriage: those who do not have the right to marry seek to share that right with those who do. They want to share. But the opponents are vocal in their fear that somehow extending the right to marry to gay people will somehow diminish their own marriages, take something away from them, even though they are unable to articulate how Adam and Steve getting married will have any tangible effect on their own unions. That other Western nations have legalized it with no deleterious effect on traditional male-female marriages, that it has not led to marrying siblings or pets, penetrates not. These, the holders of state-given rights, are fearful of losing something if those same rights are extended to those who have been heretofore denied them.
While there really is nothing for the opponents to lose in extending marriage rights to the LGBT community, such is not the case in the narcissistic household. The Golden Child may grow up with privilege, but she also grows up with the sure knowledge that at the caprice of the narcissistic parent, her position of privilege can be ended in a heartbeat. And one of the surest ways of getting yourself demoted from Golden Child to Scapegoat is to sympathize with that Scapegoat. The Golden Child must become a psychic “Mini-me” to the narcissist or risk the loss of privilege. And, because there is not middle ground in the narcissist’s mind—if you aren’t for her, then you must be against her—to avoid being cast down, the Golden Child must pander to the narcissistic parent, and in exchange receive the adoration and privileged treatment denied the Scapegoat.
While I was a Scapegoat for most of my life, I did have a brief period as the Golden Child. Not because my mother became disenchanted with my Golden Child brother, however, but because she found a “use” for me. She discovered that I could sing—really sing—when I was about 6 or 7 years old and decided she was going to make me into the next Shirley Temple (a well-known child star of my mother’s youth). Having been the Scapegoat for all of my years with her, I dreaded attention, as it usually meant I was going to end up getting hurt or punished in some way. My mother, however, thought to motivate me by telling me how famous she was going to make me (and, I heard her tell others, how rich I was going to make her), but the whole idea of fame gave me the shudders. It was just too much attention, which I perceived as being dangerous. But during that time, my mother spent hours sewing costumes, curling my poker-straight hair, painting my face with her cosmetics, and dragging me from audition to audition, from talent contests to nightclubs to TV programs to whatever venue she could dig up for me to stand in front of a large audience, my knobby knees virtually knocking with stage fright. She bragged about me, implying that other people’s children were inferior because they didn’t have my big talent. What she never did was pay attention to what I really wanted—something Golden Children often suffer from as much as Scapegoats. When, after a couple of years, it became apparent that I did not want fame the way she did, I was bumped from my tenuous position as Golden Child back to my familiar place among the cinders.
Golden Children suffer in ways we Scapegoats—and even the Golden Children themselves—may not readily recognize. Charlie’s brother, Alvin, was a Golden Child, blatantly his mother’s favourite. And he was a self-made multi-millionaire. But he made his money by skating on the thin edge of the law, disadvantaging others to advantage himself financially, more a con man than a businessman. He grew up without morals, without values, without empathy for anyone other than himself, including the mother who idolized him. He thought himself happy, rolling in money, but he drank himself stupid and had a string of unhappy marriages to women who were no less fixated on him money than he was. He had no respect for others, no self respect either. His mother excused his every transgression by convincing herself that he behaved no different from any other rich man, and to maintain his mother’s adulation, he had to maintain his wealth, no matter who he hurt in the bargain—himself, his estranged daughter, his brother, even 90+ year old ladies he conned into buying investment instruments that were useless to them but paid him a handsome commission.
There is a critical difference between the victims of South Africa’s apartheid regime and the victims of a narcissistic household: where the white South Africans did not have much in the way of democratic role models (that being a concept vigorously suppressed by the State) and the entered adulthood with precious few examples of another way to think or be, the Golden Child has an abundance of examples and role models, from schoolmates and teachers to television and movies to magazines and books, to exemplify a different way of thinking, a more just set of values, a more compassionate way of feeling. Upon achieving adulthood, the Golden Child does not remain trapped in the apartheid of the narcissist’s fantasy world unless he wants to. The Golden Child, unlike the white apartheid victim in the “old days,” has a feast of freedom set at her feet, a feast from which she may partake at any time. Nobody broadcasts messages of elitism to the Golden Child and suppresses messages of justice and fairness as a global phenomenon. The Golden Child, should she desire to do so, may step out from under the mantle of privilege and entitlement settled on her shoulders by a dysfunctional, manipulative parent. Unlike the white apartheid victims of 20 years ago, freedom is at the Golden Child’s fingertips and the consequences of embracing it is highly unlikely to be beatings, imprisonment, or even death.
And yet too many Golden Children will not take the freedom because they value their positions of privilege too much to jeopardize it. From small things like expecting receive the best piece of meat at the dinner table to big things like not feeling bad when receiving a family inheritance that left out the Scapegoat sibling, Golden Children receive much as a result of their assigned role in the family, often at the expense of others, and as adults, few of them find any reason to change that. And so they remain spoilt, entitled, indulged. Without remorse. Without compassion. And without coercion.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.